Ontario is investigating reports of businesses that have allegedly violated workplace rules after the hike to the minimum wage and the province's Labour Minister says he's hiring up to 175 new inspectors to enforce the law.
Stories of businesses slashing benefits and ending paid breaks after Ontario's minimum wage rose to $14 an hour on Jan. 1 from $11.60 have grabbed headlines and angered Labour Minister Kevin Flynn, who lashed out on Monday at business owners he said were acting like "bullies," echoing a similar statement from Premier Kathleen Wynne last week. However Mr. Flynn says some owners have gone too far and his ministry is investigating.
Labour officials are looking into allegations that a Tim Hortons in Scarborough told employees to put their tips in the till and turn them over at the end of their shifts instead of keeping them. "They've gone overboard," Mr. Flynn told reporters at Queen's Park. "That clearly contravenes the legislation. It's not just mean-spirited, it's illegal."
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Business leaders have warned for months that there would be widespread consequences when a far-reaching labour-reform bill came into effect. Along with provisions on equal pay and paid vacations, the law increased the minimum wage by nearly 21 per cent overnight, a speed of increase that has both left- and right-leaning economists concerned. There will be a further increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour next year.
The first public outcry came early in the new year when employees at two Tim Hortons locations in Cobourg, Ont., revealed that they had been informed they would no longer be entitled to paid breaks and a number of other benefits. The two locations are owned by the children of the billionaire co-founders of the iconic Canadian doughnut chain.
Both Ms. Wynne and her Labour Minister have publicly called out the owners of the cafés in eastern Ontario. "The stories we've all heard over the past week are not only disappointing but, quite frankly, they've made the Premier, myself and others in this province angry," Mr. Flynn said. "Simply put, this bullying behaviour won't be tolerated."
There have been no allegations that the two stores in Cobourg violated the law. Mr. Flynn admitted on Monday that he had few options to deal with those owners beyond a public shaming.
Tim Hortons tried to distance itself from some franchisees on Friday afternoon. In a statement, the restaurant chain said: "These recent actions by a few restaurant owners … do not reflect the values of our brand."
Mr. Flynn, who represents the Oakville riding where Tim Hortons is headquartered, praised the company's corporate office while blaming the owners of "rogue" franchises for the headlines.
Criticism of Alberta's plan to hike the hourly minimum wage in that province to $15 by October has been more muted as the increases have rolled in. Premier Rachel Notley's New Democrats spaced out the hikes over three years, about twice the time Ontario has allocated for its wage increases.
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Steve Virtue, the interim vice-president of Restaurants Canada, blamed Ms. Wynne for not having an open conversation with the province's small businesses.
"This was all foreshadowed and forecast to Premier Wynne and her government. For six or seven months, we've told them this would happen, we told her restaurateurs would need to cut shifts and reduce jobs," he said. "Instead, the province has pitted owners against employees; that's not a useful conversation."
Calls to the Labour Ministry's hotlines are up 30 per cent this year, according to Mr. Flynn, representing about 2,000 calls a month. The minister said some of the calls are people flagging possible violations, while others are from employers and employees trying to understand the new rules.
Under new workplace legislation passed last year, the Labour Minister can now publish the names of businesses that break the rules, something Mr. Flynn says he's willing to do. He's also hiring 175 new inspectors to help with enforcements. The ministry's goal is to have all claims settled within 90 days and above that, to inspect 10 per cent of Ontario's workplaces on a pro-active basis annually.